It's a beautiful day. The sky is that brilliant blue shade that you only get on the very best days of summer, and there's not a trace of cloud in sight. What better time, then, to head to the cavernous vaults of Fabric on London's Charterhouse Street. I'm reminded of my childhood, when my mother desperately tried to drag me away from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the Atari ST, and out into the fresh air. Now, some two decades later, I'm heading to what feels like the most light-deprived spot in town - and I'm going to spend the morning with a DualShock 3 in my hands. Some things never change.
So, I make my way past the bouncers and clatter down the club's metallic stairs, down into the belly of the Earth. The last glimpses of sunlight disappear, and I join the other journalists, all of us skulking about in the dark like coffee-quaffing moles in T-shirts. But here's the thing: as soon as Evolution's presentation starts, we forget all about the outside world. Hell, the sun could be going supa nova for all we care - because MotorStorm: Apocalypse has our complete and utter attention.
Evolution's new approach to the franchise is almost certainly going to set chins awagging. Thanks to the pictures that leaked online earlier this week, you may have already heard about the setting: a coastal US city that's suffered a devastating earthquake. However, none of these refugee images do justice to the utter chaos of the game in motion. You see, while the main earthquake has supposedly been and gone, it seems that Mama Tectonic Plate hasn't quite finished shaking her booty. Aftershocks are a distinct possibility, but even when the ground isn't shaking under your wheels there'll be plenty of other serious threats to your no-claims bonus.
Races take place over, under and straight through the ruins of the evacuated metropolis, forcing drivers to deal with all manner of environmental hazards - collapsing buildings, sunken roadways, and massive piles of rubble. On top of that there's a Private Military Contractor on the prowl - and in typical video game form, all the troops have gone mad and started shooting everything that moves. Throw in the now-mandatory band of crazy nut-jobs who've stayed behind to loot, party, and get run over by speedfreaks like your good self, and you've got yourself a recipe for a good time.
The MotorStorms of old were hardly a sedate experience, but as a result of these explosive additions, Apocalypse feels like a balls-out thrill ride. Barely a second of race time can tick by without something bursting into flames, keeling over, or crumbling into a heap, causing thick clouds of smoke to spew across the makeshift track. Mere moments after starting Sony's first demo a runaway oil tanker overtakes the racing pack, a suicidal lunatic hanging from a ladder at the rear; the truck veers across the road and into the side of the track, ending its life as a fireball outside an abandoned shopping mall. Later on you'll find yourself soaring over a hill and into a massive jump - but when you hit the ground, the whole road gives way and collapses into a disused carpark that lies underneath, offering a choice of routes.
The obvious comparison point is Black Rock's recently-released Split/Second, but while there are certainly some similarities between the two, there's a clear difference in Evolution's approach to mass destruction. Split/Second used its destruction effects as a sort of glorified power-up set to be triggered by players, but here the bedlam is almost constant, and part of the surrounding world. You're not just racing against your fellow drivers, you're battling to keep control of your vehicle as the ground gives way beneath you, as you tear through a falling block. And as if that wasn't enough to worry about, there's also the series' familiar Nitrous Boost system, which blows your motor to smithereens if you push it too far.
This returning feature aside, you'd be forgiven for mistaking MotorStorm Apocalypse for some other franchise entirely. Off-road racing has always been the series' roots, and while this is still technically an off-road (or perhaps broken road) affair, it still feels like a rather different beast. It didn't help much that Sony's recent demo featured a scuffed-up sports car as the only available ride, rather than the ATVs, rally cars and bikes and so forth that we've come to expect. Still, I've no doubt that most these vehicles will still be available - I spotted at least one biker during the madness of the race, although he could have been one of the random NPC motorists who loiter the track. Handling-wise the new game seemed a lot more forgiving and a touch more arcade-y than its immediate predecessor, although this may be due to the fact that the difficulty had been dialled down for the press. Has Apocalypse really strayed that far from its established formula? Only time will tell.
Either way, there's some innovative stuff going on here. The career mode has an over-arching story to it - and for once this actually sounds like a fairly well-handled addition. At the very start of the game there's a playable prologue that finds the MotorStorm carrier ship rocking up on the coast, after which you invade the US mainland from launch boats - a bit like Mad Max doing Saving Private Ryan; we were only shown stills and concept art from this bit, but it sounds wonderful. After that there's a separate campaign for each of the three difficulty levels, following a trio of protagonists over the course of 48 hours. "The Rookie" is a newcomer to the MotorStorm Festival, a stowaway on the carrier who looks a bit like Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man; "The Rookie" is our middle-ground everyman and somewhat resembles Timothy Olyphant with a pair of flying goggles on his head. Finally we have "The Veteran": a grizzled old ball-breaker who looks like the physical personification of a ZZ Top concert. Judging from his appearance, he lives only for the smell of petrol and the taste of sour whiskey - and he could make your mum pregnant by just looking at her.
As a result of the persistent timeline you'll be able to watch the city as it falls to bits: if a building falls over in the first race, for example, it'll be mess of concrete and twisted metal when you're next racing through that area. At the start of the campaign your surroundings will be heavily damaged but just about standing; by the time the two-day MotorStorm Festival wraps up, everything will have well and truly gone to Hell. At the end of each campaign there'll apparently be a sort of epilogue, too - a crazy dash back to the carrier before the entire city is finally swallowed, digested and pooped out by Mother Nature.
It all sounds like enormous fun, and that's before the unrevealed multiplayer is taken into account. Beyond that, there's also the unexpected bonus of a track creation system. Evolution hasn't revealed too much about this yet, but it has said that it will enable players to fiddle around with all the same explosive props of the pre-made tracks, and that it will use some kind of simple "word-based" system; upon further investigation, it seems that the editors will use the same sort of logic gates we've seen in WarioWare DIY; at a guess I'd imagine that you might form commands along the lines of "PLAYER is near CAR, EXPLODE" - although that's pure speculation.
Sony's demo only offered one race and a single sports car to use, but that didn't stop a healthy sense of competition from spawning among the assembled press. We egged each other on, jeered when someone crashed, and then reached over for the pad to take another go for ourselves. We knew that that the fine weather was still waiting for us outside, and yet we stuck around for Just Another Go. Even at this pre-alpha stage, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is surprisingly addictive - and perhaps that's the most encouraging sign of all.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse will be released exclusively on PS3